Brussels, 10 February 2004
"EU will be better prepared for future epidemics" says Byrne as Parliament backs new health agency
David Byrne, the European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, has strongly welcomed today's vote in the European Parliament to create a European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). "Outbreaks like SARS in 2003 and bird flu this year have been a wake-up call. Infectious diseases can pose a deadly threat and they do not respect national borders. This new EU agency will enable Europe to be better prepared for future epidemics," said the Commissioner. The draft law to create the ECDC was presented by the European Commission in July 2003 (see IP/03/1091). Parliament and Council recognised the importance of the new agency and put the law on a legislative fast track. The two Institutions have worked with the Commission to enable the law creating the ECDC to be adopted after just one reading in the European Parliament. The opinion passed by Parliament today is likely to be endorsed by the Council in the coming weeks. Work will start later this year on creating a Management Board for the agency. The ECDC is on course to become operational in 2005. The EU summit in December decided that the ECDC will be based in Sweden. A decision on which town it will be located in is expected soon.
Though the EU has a system for the Europe-wide epidemiological surveillance of infectious diseases (see: MEMO/03/155) cooperation on investigating and controlling disease is largely ad hoc. For example, the small EU team sent to help the WHO investigate avian influenza in Vietnam (see IP/04/165) is part of an EU project to train disease investigation experts. The EU expert group on SARS created during the outbreak in spring 2003 was put together under the European Communicable Disease Network. While these have been good short term solutions, they are not sustainable in the long term.
The ECDC will enable Europe to pool its disease control expertise more effectively, allowing EU disease outbreak investigation teams to be put together quickly and efficiently. The Centre will ensure the results of their investigations are available to the public health authorities around the EU. And it will produce authoritative advice and recommendations to guide EU and national decision makers.
A small but effective EU agency
There is already a wealth of scientific expertise in the Member States' public health institutes. The aim of the proposed ECDC is to network this expertise and to facilitate coordination between the Member State institutes. The Centre itself will have a relatively small core staff (probably around 30 to 40 to start off with). However, it will tap into, and draw together the expertise of hundreds of scientists around Europe.
The core of this network is already in place. Europe's communicable disease network already links experts monitoring specific diseases or following specific issues such as antimicrobial resistance (see MEMO/03/155).
As the Centre takes over the operation of these networks it will make use of the expertise and working relationships they have already established. The ECDC will also assist the work on monitoring and preparedness planning against bioterrorist attacks that has been pursued by the EU's Health Security Task Force (see MEMO/02/122).
The initial focus of the Centre will be on communicable diseases and outbreaks of disease of unknown origin. After it has been operating for three years the work of the Centre will be reviewed by an external evaluator. Following this review, and also future reviews of the Centre's work, the EU may decided to extend the ECDC's remit to cover other activities in the field of public health, such as health monitoring.
ECDC likely to open in 2005
Preparatory work on the creation of the Centre will start later this year. A Management Board, composed of Member State, Commission and European Parliament representatives, will need to be established and the search for a Director of the agency begun. The Centre is on course to become operational in 2005.
The European Council in Brussels in December decided that the ECDC will be based in Sweden. A decision on which town it will be located in is expected soon.
For further information on the proposal to create a European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control see: